The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 June 2005

An eminent-domain case in Oklahoma

From this morning's Oklahoman:

Five miles north of the Texas border along Interstate 35, Joe Heim breeds and trains quarter horses on 56 acres he bought in 1980 as an investment. Heim is among six defendants in condemnation lawsuits filed by Western Electrical Cooperative, which wants to build 80-foot transmission poles across the owners' land.

All around Heim, property values have skyrocketed since the Chickasaw Nation built the massive WinStar Casino in 2003. Two miles south of Heim's farm, the tribe's casino partner paid $1.4 million last October for 216 acres, or $6,481 per acre. Nearby land that fronts I-35 near an exit, like Heim's, has been valued at up to $80,000 an acre, his attorney said.

The casino also has brought a need for electrical transmission improvements. Heim said Western Farmers Electric Cooperative offered him $2,700 to erect the transmission poles on 10 of his acres, he said. "It would make it useless for anything other than a parking lot or grass."

Brian Hobbs, the cooperative's attorney, said the utility is seeking an easement on Heim's land of just 467 feet long and 100 feet wide. Only one pole would be built on his property.

This isn't directly affected by Kelo v. City of New London: WEC is not a governmental unit, and it's seeking, not the entire tract, but a narrow strip as an easement. Still, the Kelo definition of "public use," which is "just about anything," might play a role in the unwinding of this case.

Meanwhile, Mr Heim has other complaints:

Heim said cooperative officials have admitted in depositions that the Chickasaw Nation is paying for the power lines, and that the upgrade wouldn't be necessary except for the casino and a planned resort, including two hotels.

Heim said he had considered selling part of his land for a truck stop and for apartments to accommodate casino workers. Condemnation of his property would ruin those plans.

And I'm wondering just how much impact the presence of the Chickasaw Nation as an interested party will have on the outcome; the state's relationship with the tribes has often been prickly.

Posted at 10:14 AM to Soonerland

I say get Rep. Tom Cole involved. Since he got millions in taxpayer funding for special highway access to the casino, I'll bet he'd be good for a few hundred thousand to secure a right-of-way.

Posted by: MikeH at 7:02 PM on 24 June 2005

I'd certainly think so.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:07 PM on 24 June 2005